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Co-founder behind Gone Home Steve Gaynor changes role after toxic leadership forces women out

Back in 2012, the Fullbright Company was formed by three friends: Johnnemann Nordhagen, and Karla Zimonja, and Steve Gaynor. Joined by Kate Craig, the four eventually went on to create the queer, indie darling known as Gone Home. Its release encouraged a wave of incredible criticism, and inspired game devs of the future to create something just as special.

Fast forward to 2021 and Open Roads, the next video game from Fullbright in partnership with Annapurna Interactive, is nowhere to be seen despite reassurances that it’ll be releasing this year. The reason for this? A toxic workplace, with Steve Gaynor and his leadership causing “convoluted decision-making processes“, micromanagement and belittlement. It was this behaviour from Gaynor that led to women leaving Fullbright every month.

In a report from Polygon, that goes into full detail about what happened at Fullbright, anonymous employees stated that they often felt Gaynor was “controlling” and had a “demeaning presence.” Oftentimes they felt that Gaynor himself was Fullbright due to the total control he had over the Twitter account – which made employees uncomfortable.

It wasn’t just female employees in smaller roles that suffered from Gaynor’s toxic workstyle, but women in leadership roles too. They told Polygon that they experienced “constant micromanagement” from Gaynor, making it that even the slightest iteration needed to be approved by him. He also had a reputation of belittling female staff and made no effort to hide it. At one point in the Polygon report, one employee even characterized Gaynor as “working for a high school mean girl. His go-to weapon was to laugh at people’s opinions and embarrass them in front of other people.”

Since the report from Polygon, both Open Roads – a video game about a road trip between a mother and her daughter – and Steve Gaynor have taken to Twitter to make a statement. You can see Open Roads, below. You can see Gaynor’s here.

Gaynor is no longer in a leadership role. Now he is a writer, working on a video game story where a daughter and mother go on a powerful adventure together. If that doesn’t feel right to you, then don’t worry, you’re not alone in thinking that.

“It turns my stomach to think that he still gets to write these games about women’s stories when this is how he treats them in real life, with presumably no sign of stopping,” one former employee told Polygon. “I want women in the industry and this studio to feel valued. I want vulnerable young women who are new to the industry to be supported, not preyed upon. I want women to not have to fear retaliation from a powerful ‘auteur’ figure for speaking up. I want women to feel safe here. I want women to know that this is not normal. More than anything, I just want him to stop. He shouldn’t be allowed to keep getting away with this.”

This story comes out amidst the abuse allegations of Activision Blizzard, showing what we should have already known: toxicity isn’t just an AAA games industry problem. It is, unfortunately, everywhere.

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